Project:Possibility have recently published the code from 17 open source accessibility projects on Google Code. Teams of computer science students from USC and UCLA developed these projects when participating in the lively extra curricula accessibility coding events organised by Project:Possibility. Now the students have moved on, leaving the open source code available for others to exploit, whilst taking with them the memory of the experience and hopefully an appreciation of open accessibility.
Those of you familiar with OSS Watch will know our position is that projects are successful when practising open development with a diverse community. When introduced at the project’s inception this leads to optimal chance of sustainability by minimising barriers to entry and contribution. So you may wonder why I was involved in such a ‘code dumping’ activity?
The answer is largely one of resource as the Project:Possibility team are all volunteers, and the limited time students have in the events which are designed to get them excited about accessibility concepts and technologies. That’s not meant to be an excuse as we would dearly like the students’ work to seed innovative open accessibility and assistive technology projects with active user communities. However we have to prioritise until further resources are found and while the teams work with basic open development tools like version control, more attention could be given to then practice of open development, even if only through introducing template project tools and governance models.
Working for OSS Watch has already refined my understanding of open development and I hope Project:Possibility will be able to introduce best community practices in the Semester programme where experienced mentors join the teams. That is unlikely to be practical for the fast paced and high energy weekend ‘code-a-thon’. The results of these 2 events have been impressive with highly motivated students producing interesting and useful projects. Anything done to make projects sustainable and develop into mature projects with active users communities will be a huge plus. The code produced is often raw, as you would expect from the style of events and the fact that it is effectively prototyped, even if the style has been more ‘big design up front’ than agile. However this shouldn’t be an issue as open development is very comfortable with early and frequently code releases.
Project:Possibility has already attracted some external interest in the projects such as the mobile currency reader, but how much better it would be for interested parties join the students while they are active or for the students continue after the closing ceremonies. I’d personally be happy if we managed that with just one project. This may be possible as Project:Possibility are addressing the resource issue and the first step will be recruiting a CEO who will concentrate on strategy and raising more resources, including funds. We are naturally interested in hearing from anyone who would like to contribute in anyway.
My choice of Google Code as the new public home for projects was based on considerations such as :-
- light weight tools cover the basic requirements and are easy to learn;
- easy to setup each project and can have a shared account to manage all projects;
- popular space with many other student projects;
- related student friendly activities such as Summer of Code and GC university;
- relatively easy to move code and resources in and out (e.g svnsync for code);
OSS Watch has an introductory guide to setting up a Google Code project if you’d like to investigate.
So now the code is more easily available we can hope that someone will find it and make use of it. However what is really needed is for interested users and developers to take the Google Code projects and grow active communities around them. Such wishes rarely come true, but perhaps someone reading this will take a first step?